It’s time once again to take a look at those comics that were unfairly ignored. With more graphic novels and comic books coming out in stores than ever before, it’s perhaps inevitable that some titles slip through the cracks, not due to a lack of quality, but simply because they got lost in the Wednesday shuffle. The books listed here aren’t necessarily my personal favorite books of 2012. Rather, they’re good — even great — books that, for whatever reason, didn’t get the sort of praise — either online or in print — that they deserved.
1. RASL by Jeff Smith. It’s not terribly surprising that Jeff Smith’s follow-up series to Bone didn’t generate the same level of media attention. After all, what comic could possibly match the sort acclaim, affection and sheer mania that Smith’s winning all-ages fantasy series did over the past two decades, let alone a sci-fi noir aimed at a decidedly older audience? What is surprising, especially given Smith’s stature and reputation in the industry, is how decidedly little coverage RASL got, especially when it wrapped up in 2012. While it didn’t make my own personal top 10 list, it was a fun, trippy series and showed that Smith had the chops to branch out into other genres and modes of storytelling than Bone might have first suggested. I’m hoping it gets the full appreciation it deserves once a full collected edition comes out (sometime soon I would imagine).
2. Ripper and His Friends by Benjamin Marra. 2012 was actually a pretty good year for Ben Marra. His comic Lincoln Washington, Free Man marked some sort of tipping point, earning him a lengthy interview on The Comics Journal website and seemingly more attention in general from the comics press. Even the negative criticism Marra started receiving, as people took him to task for the racial and violent imagery in his work, seemed to mark a greater awareness of some kind. But my favorite comic from Marra this year was this oddity, which debuted at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. It’s a peculiar, funny and very disturbing take on horrible Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s (this cartoon show in particular) and all the sex, violence and other gross stuff that seemed to lie under the surface of those shows. In its cheerful display of scatological humor and gore, it ends up also becoming a riff (and, dare I say it, satire?) on the underground comics of yesteryear and their willingness to push pop culture tropes to their illogical ends (actually if anything, Ripper reminds me of Mattioli’s grand guginol Squeak the Mouse comic). It’s not a comic for delicate tastes, to be sure, but neither is it something to be quickly dismissed.
3. Wayward Girls by Michel Budel. Let’s face it, Wayward Girls is a decidedly weird comic. Owing as much to Henry Darger as he does Winsor McCay and Scott McCloud (who appears briefly as a character in this comic) this off-kilter ode to pre-pubsecent sexuality, comics and general pop culture weirdness disturbs as much as it delights, making it perhaps a bit of a niche thing. Still, it’s so idiosyncratic, strange and genuinely funny that I would have liked to have seen more people talking about it.
4. The Lost Art of Ah Pook Is Here by Malcolm McNeill. Maybe this is one of those things that show how far the indsutry has come. I can easily imagine ten or 20 years ago the release of an long-lost and unfinished comic by one of the most acclaimed authors in American literature would generate a lot more heat than the release of this work, created by William Burroughs and artist Malcom McNeill in the 1970s and never completed, did. Perhaps now that comics have garnered more respect from the outside world, this sort of thing impresses us a lot less. Of course, part of the problem is that Fantagraphics was unable to get permission from the Burroughs estate to reprint the original text, thus resulting in a coffee table book that feels strangely hollow, like it’s missing an essential ingredient. Still, there’s some amazing, hallucinatory imagery here (and in McNeill’s companion memoir, Observed While Falling), to marvel at and make you wish the project had reached some better form of completion.
5. You’ll Never Know Book 3: Soldier’s Heart by Carol Tyler. Those of us that have viewed Tyler as a great, underrated cartoonist, the arrival of her three-part saga about her father and the damage wrought on him by World War II was not only met with high anticipation, but also the hope that it would be a work that would garner her greater recognition. Yet while the first two volumes received some praise (and a couple of Eisner nominations) the release of the third and final volume doesn’t seem to have met with much attention (beyond a sizable interview with Tom Spurgeon). While Tyler’s discursive, homey storytelling style might not appeal to everyone, she proves in these pages she is a cartoonist capable of producing sequences of exquisite beauty and deep emotional heft. It’s a book — and a series — that deserves more attention than it’s gotten so far.
6. Young Albert by Yves Chaland. The high price ($90!) and limited availability (only 550 copies!) might have been what led to the near-deafening silence surrounding this Humanoids release. There’s also the fact that the late Yves Chaland, like so many great European cartoonists, isn’t exactly a household name on North American shores. And yet what an amazing, stellar artist Challand was and what a vibrant, wonderfully snarky piece of work Young Albert is. A series of strips that ran in Metal Hurlant back in the 1980s, Young Albert featured a insufferably cruel know-it-all who lived in a world made up of fools or equally cruel people (and a world that — for no explicit reason — some how shifts to World War II devastation just because). A commentary on the Franco-Belgian comics Chaland grew up with and just a pure fun riff on the traditional comic strip structure in its ow right, Young Albert deserves a wider audience than it got this year. Hopefully, Humanoids will follow their usual pattern and release a smaller, less expensive edition of the book later this year.